Monthly Archives: March 2017

Getting what I want in NorCAL.

At Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, California, you cannot in fact get anything you want.  You can’t get diet rootbeer or use a restroom.  But if you smile at the waitress and ask nicely, the owner will have someone toast the gluten-free bread which you bring from the car.

There’s a Group W bench but no one waited to take my money for T-Shirts in the gas station where the bathrooms are, around the back.

After lunch (grapefruit juice, Portabello sandwich on my bread, cold sweet potato fries and unsalted house-made chips), I started down 84E towards Menlo Park.  A mile away from the restaurant, I got stuck behind a landslide and suddenly my brain switched from Arlo to Stevie Nicks.  I had a pleasant chat out my window with the road crew guy directing traffic at our end.  Where you from, he asked.  When I told him, he laughed.  Not too many mud slides there, I bet, he guessed.  Too right.

Traffic stopped again halfway down the mountain.  I took a few pictures, then started through the green light, lifting my hand from the steering wheel Arkansas-style to thank the next red-flag holder.  A few minutes later, I slipped into the city as the afternoon sun burned the last fog from the California sky.

My ears still popping from the trip via the pig-trail over the mountains, I tried to bite my tongue as the manager of Peet’s Coffee used me for a punching bag.  I sat down with my Chai, reached out on Social Media to my friends, and watched as their sympathy came pouring through.  I feel as though I probably complained, but sometimes, a girl has to let off a little steam.  I’ve been nice all week and that’s running against type.

It’s the sixteenth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



The ides of March, NORCAL style

The route from Montara north to Santa Rosa took me first past Here Comes The Sun Coffee Shop.  Feeling a little low on both caffeine and local flare, I pulled into the stretch of broken asphalt out front.  I asked the impossibly cheerful lady behind the counter if they sold car-cups with the store’s logo.  She crowed, No, but what a great idea!  If you had one, what kind would it be?  A bit taken aback,  I ventured, A narrow one that my hands could safely hold while driving.

Her smile widened.  She snatched the store’s business card from a tray and turned to the worktop behind her.  Before I could protest, she had taken a mug from a shelf, removed its innards, and slid the card into the space between the liner and a clear plastic outer shell.

Look! she chortled.  I got this at a wedding!  I could totally do this for the store and I am going to give you this mug to thank you for the idea!

Stunned, I looked around for a kindness to give in return.  i noticed some home-made bracelets for sale with different words hammered into metal disks strung on silk cords.  How much are these, I asked.  She clapped her hands and said that a friend of hers makes them.  I let her choose for me.  She picked JOY. How did she know?

A few hours later, my business in Santa Rosa completed, my phone’s GPS guided me to BREW where the effervescent, lovely, and incredibly smart Ellen Cox would be joining me for coffee.  As I crossed the street from the parking garage, laptop in hand, I stopped to study the coffee house.  Its adornment beckoned me.  I felt at home.  I continued forward, not sure what all of this meant, but certain only good could follow.

An hour later, Ellen talked to me of capicitors, caught me up on her mother’s trip to LA, and planned our collective outing at Fisherman’s Wharf.  I met Ellen and her mother Sharon Alberts at HI Pigeon Point nearly a year ago.  I feel like a visiting aunt, happy to hear about the higher Godly math required for her engineering degree, and the doings at the winery where she works.

Our conversation wound down as the glasses emptied.  Ellen checked her iPhone to make sure that I wouldn’t hit traffic heading south on 101.  Clear through to the Bridge, she assured me.  That’s how NORCAL measures traffic:  Ease of navigation to and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

She was right.  I made it back to Montara in record time.  As the sun sets over my Pacific, I sit down in the kitchen, tired, content, and ready for rest.

It’s the fifteenth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  The ides of March has been good to me.  Life continues.

Pacific blues

Just like that:  I’m back in California, where a woman’s wonky heart can flutter beneath a cowl-neck sweater in the fragile sun-kissed breezes.  California:  Where even the flight attendants wear clunky Mary Janes and have fine lines on their pale cheeks.  California — and the care falls away as I cross the Golden Gate Bridge, turn right, and hit the Great Highway, headed south for Montara.

The phone rings.  My son says, It’s snowing in Chicago.  I hear the sound of the CTA as he boards to ride downtown in swirling frozen air just to see winter’s mad moments as he reads a script and thinks about rehearsal.  I’ve taken the Pacifica exit to look for a cafe which I found by accident six months ago, a few feet above sea level.  I can’t remember where it is.  I finally park and finish my call with Patrick.  I tell the phone, lunch near me, and make my way to the Chit Chat Cafe, where I chance normal bread to have one of the most succulent Caprese sandwiches this side of Cleveland.

Or anywhere.  This side of everywhere.

I change clothes in the little any-gender lavatory, resting the Barcelona bag on the floor.  I notice it says 2002, not 2003 as I wrote in my blog the other day.  I laugh; then look around as though someone’s hiding in the bathroom to admonish me for being amused.

At the little two-top, I plug one of my three computing devices into the charger that Katrina brought me when I found myself fearful to be alone during the non-ice-storm in Kansas City last month.  I’m not sure the gadget works but I feel strangely comforted knowing that it might charge my phone.  I know where I’m going so I don’t really need its GPS but I’m a midwesterner.   Maps give us something close to sanity in any situation.

I finish my sandwich and start looking for a chair near a plug.  A man typing almost as rapidly as I do helps me get situated.  He says my wife tells me that her computer behaves better just because I’m in the room.  He says it like he’s proud.  I’m not sure which pleases him more:  Having the wife or being teased by her.  My computer responds to his tiny little jiggles of the cord and suddenly, I’m online.  I ignore the e-mails from my office and download the picture that I snapped through the window, with my sandwich idle in front of me and the word “blues” taking on a whole new meaning.

It’s the fourteenth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


I spent more money today than I had planned.

I bought crisp black pants, a dress with a V-neck and 3/4 sleeves, a navy-blue suit with an adorable peplum jacket, and yet another cross-body bag.  I sat in the car hearing a disembodied voice, a memory really, saying, Get the damned hearing aids, I’ll help you pay for them.  But I never did; and the tinnitus still rages.

I’m that kind of person.  The kind of person that buys second-hand suits to dress like someone that I could never be, then puts tights and Doc Martens under the skirt.  I’m a woman who hears the voices of lovers past, saying over and over, If only you could. . . If only you would. . . if only you had.  I throw pennies into a jar and quarters on the floor and save the dead roses from the caskets of people against whose death I protest in the endless dark of night after night.

The suit came from Boomerang’s, a place so cool that I didn’t think they would take my debit card.  I last shopped there in 2009.  I bought a suit for my son which I shipped to his dorm along with a pair of black dress shoes that I found in his closet.  When I opened the door today, I asked one of the owners if the place was getting ready to close.  You’ve got 45 minutes, he assured me.  On the strength of his smile, I put my name on the mailing list and turned the corner towards the rack where they keep the hats.

A lady with hair much greyer than mine would be even if I didn’t get it colored stood before a mirror trying on black felt Homburgs.  That looks great with your hair, I told her, and she turned toward me in surprise.  But not bad surprise; not chagrin.  Instead, her face wore an expression which I recognized from the mirror.  Those of us who live alone sometimes go weeks without speaking except at our jobs or to the cop who stops us to ask if we knew we were speeding.  Of course, we don’t reply.  How else will I get any attention?

The lady told me that she needed a hat to go with the black suit hanging from a nearby stand.  She swapped the one on her head for a different style, and raised her eyebrows.  Uh, that’s too small, I ventured, and reached for another.  She told me that she had a part in a play, that she’d be the man who told Rosie the Riveter that she welded pretty well for a girl.  Then she asked me what kind of ties people wore in the 1940s, like she expected that someone good at selecting Homburgs would know.  I guessed “skinny”, but when we looked on the internet with her phone, that turned out to be wrong.

I found my suit, slung the handbag over my arm, and went to the counter where the two owners stood waiting to shoo us out the door so they could go home.  I opened the pocketbook and stared into its depths, trying to decide if I could pull off something so normal-looking.  I’m not much of an actress.  And the bag has brown leather trim with a gold-tone buckle.  But in the end, I bought it, because you can’t go to California with nothing but a back-pack and expect to be taken seriously.

I told the hat lady my name.  She gave me her card and a flyer about the play, and I promised that I would attend to see how she looked as a man.  We laughed, then; and the owners did too.  Outside the store, the sun had begun to set.  By the time I got home, night had fallen.

It’s the eleventh day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Fare thee well

My normal reaction to departures from my life has always been to pour myself a Gulpee-size helping of denial.

This week, I’m lugging around a Thermal Jug of the stuff.

My friend Pat Reynolds has finally made good on her threat to retire to Tucson.  She of the Yorkielaw fame, who has sat with me when I cried, saying exactly what I needed to hear.  Pat intervened with a judge or two when I got out of line.  She persuaded me to venture to North God’s Country.  She taught me that there’s nothing a determined woman cannot do, including working a keyboard with long nails or going to court in open-toe shoes while still being considered respectable.

In her SUV with the TLC LAW plates and her beloved Ciara on board, no doubt strapped into the front seat, Pat headed west just in time to escape a renewed blast of winter as the wind blows its fierce breath onto Kansas City.  I cannot bear to journey to the little office that I rented down the hall from hers.  Knowing we’d have breakfast at Ginger Sue’s where she’d give me her feisty and perfect opinion on the affairs of the day and the happenings in the Clay County bar livened my journeys to Liberty.  She reads my blog, e-mails amusing commentary on life and our fellow practitioners, and cuts through the nonsense in most situations to call it just as she sees it and as it probably really is.

I’m going to miss her more than I can articulate.  But I know she will be happier in the warmth of the southwest, in her lovely adobe house, in a community with no children and the perfect little patio for Ciara’s occasional peek out-of-doors.  Left to mourn her decampment:  One Missouri Mugwump, who depended on Pat Reynolds to help me cling to the barest bit of sanity left beneath the veneer.

But I won’t complain.  She got a two-bedroom condo and I plan to make good on my threat to visit, by and by, perhaps in time for the famous Arizona monsoons.  Fare the well, my friend.  Safe journeys.

It’s evening on the ninth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Storm’s coming.  Hunker down.  Life continues.

The littlest angel

A photo on social media yesterday of an acquaintance and her new baby reminded me of my aunt Della and the babies she lost before adopting her three children.  Then I thought about the several miscarriages which I experienced, including one early in my pregnancy with my son.  Losing his twin saddened me; though the boy whom I got lifts my heart.

Patrick entered the world laughing, 7 pounds 10 ounces despite being six weeks early.  Though we’ve shared both good times and rough days, I would not have traded my parenting of him for anything.  A mother’s love for her son has no compare.  This love neither threatens nor mirrors any other.  Its uniqueness enhances every other lovely feeling that I have for any one or anything.  My mother’s affection for my child augments my capacity for all other affection.

We talked on the phone yesterday about various mundane aspects of each of our lives.  I’m proud of his political activism, his financial responsibility, and his gentle spirit.  That I produced such an accepting soul astounds me.  I cannot say he is without judgment.  But he applies a keen refinement when he takes measure of the situations and people in his world.  He gives chances. He studies with a critical and calm eye.  He discards superficial requirements and allows for individual differences in ways that leave me breathless.

If he reads this entry, he will message me and say, with rueful tone that will carry through even in virtual format, Well, thanks, Mom; but you really shouldn’t have.  I will smile and think:  Yes, I should — even allowing for the should-less message of non-violent communication.  The best of me dwells in Patrick’s heart.  Every step that I have taken in sixty-one (and a half) years derives its sureness from the knowledge that whatever else I have done in my life, I got this one right.  Say that I’ve failed a half-dozen lovers.  Pull up my name from the annals of history and check off my plethora of losses against my paltry sum of wins.  Like he who submitted to the gentle kiss of Jenny*, note my failings all you like.  But give me this boy as the best result of my feeble efforts, although I only deserve partial credit for what he has made of himself.

I don’t know what it might have been like to have parented two such beings.  But I’m grateful for my littlest angel; he has grown into a man and taken flight.  I have no complaint.

It’s the ninth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


P.S.: Congratulations to Caitlin Varenhorst Dresser and Eric Dresser for the birth of their son Jackson.


*JENNY KISSED ME — by Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
jumping from the chair she sat in.
Time, you thief, who loves to get
sweets into your list, put that in.
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
say that health and wealth
have missed me.
Say I’m growing old, but add:
Jenny kissed me.


Some Days

Some days, the weight of rhetorical questions crushes me.

Some days, I stare at the crumpled road map which I clutch with shaking hands and wonder how the hell I got so lost.

Some days, the face in the mirror stuns me.

Some days, the ruined pages of my life fall around me like sodden leaves after the high winds of a brutal spring.

Some days, I make list after list of failures; catalog after catalog of losses; reams of scrawled explanations, entreaties, epitaphs.

Some days, my eyes burn and my mouth twitches and my joints ache and my heart sags.

It’s the seventh day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.   Life continues. . . some days.

Which way the wind blows

At lunch after morning court, I knocked my coffee clear to the floor.

A young man at the table to my left leaped from his chair with a wad of napkins.  His wife lifted my plate from the approaching brown flood.  The waiter came over with a rag.  We all settled in a few minutes, me with blushing face and the folks next to me beaming reassuringly in my direction.

You’re in good company, insisted the husband.  We deal with this all the time!  I’m a complete klutz.  His wife nodded.  I thanked them and cast my eyes down to my cold eggs and limp toast.

I had gone outside to take a call from a judge with the plate in front of me and the coffee still steaming.  Fifteen minutes later, I pressed end on my cell phone and came back inside.  Too hastily, as it happened.

While I tried to regain my composure, my saviors bowed their heads to say a blessing over their food.  I had not seen such a prominent display of reverence in a public place for some time.  I found myself eavesdropping on their conversation, with the fellow’s voice loud enough to make it easy from his side.  The wife’s delicate murmurs inhibited my attempts to understand the back-and-forth, but I quickly gathered that they had recently reunited after a separation that the man, at least, had feared would lead to divorce.

Now they were planning a trip out of town to which they seemed to be looking forward with happy anticipation.

I finished lunch, paid and gathered my things without casting a glance at the couple beside me.  They didn’t speak; they seemed engrossed in each other.  A few minutes later, I hit the sidewalk outside of the city parking garage.  The wind blasted me back just as a four-door sedan turned the corner to head into the wrong direction of traffic on a one-way street.  I pushed myself closer to the oncoming traffic on the cross-street, away from the driver’s frantic attempts to reverse which took her into the crosswalk a foot from my swinging computer bag.  She met my eyes; I cannot say which of ours held more fear.  I flicked my hand and bent my head to the wind as I started across the street.

I fought the wind all the way to the accessible ramp of the circuit court building, where two lunch-time lawyers laughed at my obvious dismay.  Going to fall over, are you? one of them said, while both let their amusement sparkle on their faces.  I could not reply.  My body struggled to stay vertical.  I clung to the wall and braced my weaker leg, flashing for a second on the question one visitor to my hospital room thirty-five years ago had articulated.

Was it her good leg or her bad leg, he inquired of my mother.  He referenced the shattered leg from a pedestrian-vehicle encounter of which I’d had the worse end.  My mother’s eyebrows shot skyward.  I didn’t know she had a good leg, she replied.

We all laughed.

I wasn’t laughing today, battling the force of a wind pushing me onward faster than those wobbling legs could handle.  I staggered into the courthouse, groping for my security badge.  The deputy, one of the regulars, came forward with extended hands, asking if I needed help.

I smiled.  Boy, do I,  I thought.  But I thanked him and steadied myself.  When the shuddering in my legs had subsided, I moved through the turn-style and continued down the hallway, to the courtroom where I would make a recommendation for another decent outcome, another co-parenting situation cobbled together for the life of a six-year-old with a splintered genogram.

When I left the courthouse, I took the arm of the lawyer who represented the six-year-old’s father.  Game but a bit desperate we tried to gauge which way the wind blew as we started for the parking garage together.

It’s the sixth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Truth About Sorrow

Here’s the truth about sadness.
You can tell yourself:
It’s been long enough; let it go.
Or, It’s been long enough –
it has let me go.
You can insist, It’s been so long
Since that death;
our divorce;
the departure.
You can say it outloud:
It’s been years since I stood
beside the open grave;
in court;
at the empty doorway.
Plenty of years; a thousand years.
Enough years.
But you’re lying
or delusional.
The only time it’s been long enough
is when the feelings were so flimsy
that you wouldn’t need any time at all.
Note to readers:
This is not a complaint –
just an explanation
from an essayist who’s always been
a lousy but hopeful poet.

It’s the fourth day of the thirty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.


I awakened this morning feeling thankful without really understanding why that emotion arose so early.  I squinted at my cell phone, since I’ve long since gotten too nearsighted for the clock.  4:30 a.m.  I figured that I could be grateful in a half hour so I tried to sleep.

Two and a half hours later, I’m still swathed in the same pleasant buzz.  It can’t be the day’s efforts yesterday, because I snapped at a rude attorney and instantly regretted matching his obnoxious behavior with my own.  My faithful secretary outdid herself with preparations for our art event today: Maybe that did it.

Regardless, here I am, getting ready for a morning hearing that wouldn’t be happening if I had been able to find a way to convince the other side to settle.  Perhaps if I hadn’t succumbed to his taunts, I might have.  Perhaps a calmer disposition or the judge’s insight might get us there.  Either way, by 4:30 this afternoon, twelve long hours after awakening with hope in my heart, I will be standing at the entry way to suite 100 greeting art-lovers and artists at the Quarterly First Friday.

That’s enough to make anyone smile.

It’s the third day of the thirty-ninth month of My [Long, Long, Long] Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Art @ Suite 100 Presents: KRIS ROLLER & FRIENDS